Apart from three nights when Julie first arrived in Tasmania we’ve been packing up and moving almost every day so it’s time to find a spot to set up a base camp for about a week and take the camper off the ute to explore the area. The main camping area in Freycinet National Park is located near Coles Bay and the start of some great walks and also has internet and phone cover which we haven’t had for a while so it would make a great choice. It’s usually pretty busy in this national park but as it is the end of Easter we’re hoping it will be emptying out and we can get a good spot. Unfortunately the congestion in the car park at the Visitor Centre and the queue for assistance don’t look promising and sure enough there are no vacancies in this part of the park for vehicle based camping for the next two nights. We decide to spend the next couple of nights elsewhere in the national park and we book a site for the campground at Coles Bay for the remainder of our week.
The free camping area at Friendly Beaches offers an excellent alternative. In fact if it had phone cover we’d probably prefer it as it is more relaxed and we set up for two nights in a spot with a great view over the ocean. The beach offers some great walks with rocky areas to fossick around and long beaches with firm sand stretching north and south. The beach is quiet; families playing in the sand near their camp, occasional tourists wandering down from the carpark to have a look, a few intrepid souls swimming and three local surfers catching some waves so it’s very easy to find a spot on the beach just to yourself. Six vintage VW Kombi vans pull in near us and form a ‘laager’ with their owners chairs and tables in the centre protected from the coastal breeze. The VWs all differ reflecting the personalites of their owners but none would be less than about fifty years old and they have all been beautifully restored and maintained. We really enjoy going to sleep to the sound of the waves breaking on the beach.
The rest of the week is spent camped in the main camping area down at Coles Bay itself. As well as internet and phone we have power and hot showers; what luxury! In between walks and sightseeing Paul enjoys time working on his photos. A few steps away a sheltered beach provides pleasant walks along the sand or into the town centre with great views of the ‘Hazards’, a line of distinctive hills which bisect the park. A short drive leads to the lighthouse with its views over the ocean to the north, east and south and to the entry of Wineglass Bay. Half way back along the road another walking track takes us down to Sleepy Bay with fascinating rocks to clamber around and photograph.
Multi day walks lead south around the peninsula but the furthest we walk is up to the Wineglass Bay lookout, down to the bay itself and along the beach then across the peninsula to Hazards Beach and back around the edge of the Hazards. Its a beautiful walk and we take our time enjoying lunch while we are on the beach. The sun is out and the colour and clarity of the water at Wineglass Bay is shown off to best advantage and Paul has fun trying to capture the essence of the scene with his camera.
The Coles Bay township is small and largely holiday focussed and we enjoy the sunset view of the Hazards and dinner one evening in a local cafe listening to a local singer. We sample the local oysters and, while they are very enjoyable, we vote the St Helens oysters to be superior. The local mussels can’t be faulted and they are delicious cooked with tomatoes, white wine, garlic and a touch of chilli soaked up with a crusty loaf of bread … yum. After our relaxing week we head toward our next experience, two nights in a penitentiary!
We make a slight detour back to Bicheno, a popular holiday town on the east coast. We need to visit the laundromat and post office and had planned to do some walks along the beaches and out to a tidal island while we were here but the weather is cold and windy so we settle for some short drives and a chat with the very friendly laundromat operator. Onward we make another stop at a winery in the tiny town of Cranbrook. The wine is not to our taste but the old buildings in the grounds are well worth a good look.
Swansea is a very pretty town on the bay opposite the Freycinet peninsula and we will spend a night along this coast but we’re not looking for a caravan park so we continue south to the very attractive free camping area in the Mayfield Bay Conservation Area. It’s not big and can be very popular with both tourists and locals but we’re late enough in the season for the crowds to have thinned and we snare a level camp site with fabulous views over the bay and across to Freycinet. We have time for a short beach walk down to the historic tunnels built by the convicts which drain the small creek under the roadway.
It is a short drive next day to our next destination in Triabunna. We’ll camp behind the pub for the night and catch the ferry over to Maria Island in the morning but it’s early so we have time for some sightseeing first. Rain is drizzling down so a walk around the historic buildings is vetoed and we take a drive through Orford and down along the coast to Spring Beach.
There are no cars on Maria Island, apart from a few national park work vehicles, so the camper stays behind and we are loaded with sleeping bags, food, crockery, clothes and of course cameras and tripod when we board the ferry. We have booked a room in the old penitentiary for two nights, would have liked longer but it’s popular all year round so we were lucky to get this much time. Each room has four bunk beds with a wood fire and tables and benches and there is a communal kitchen and dining area and bathroom. The main campground is also near the jetty and there are bush camps for those who want to explore further afield. Bicycles are a good way to see more of the island and they can be rented in Triabunna or on the island but we decide there will be plenty for us to see within walking distance in the time we have available.
The ferry trip takes around 30 minutes to deliver us to Darlington, the site of the penal settlement which began operation in 1825. It didn’t last long as a penal settlement though as the convicts found it all too easy to escape across the water. The island was later used as a convict probation station for another short period but has also had a number of other uses over the years before becoming a national park. The history of the island is well illustrated in displays in the settlement of Darlington and on signs attached to other buildings scattered around the island. The island is a great place for bird watching with numerous Cape Barren Geese, one of the world’s rarest geese, around the settlement. Wombats are also plentiful and as with other Tasmanian wombats they don’t seem to realise they are nocturnal creatures, well at least the mainland ones are.
Two of the most popular short walks are to the Fossils Cliffs and the Painted Cliffs. Each can easily be done in less than two hours return but there is plenty to explore along the way and on side trips so they can take as long as you want. The Fossil Cliffs walk takes us past old buildings and a cemetery which are great to explore and photograph and to the northern edge of the island where a former limestone quarry reveals millions of fossilised shellfish, sea fans and coral like creatures in layers of sandstone many metres thick. Continuing along the edge of the island the path takes us higher until we are standing on the edge of spectacular cliffs which plunge straight into the ocean. There are great views off the northern edge of the island and up to the summit of Bishop and Klerk mountain and across to a small island off shore. This is definitely a spot for Paul to return to for sunrise photos which he does the next morning. The return walk down the forested gully behind the cliffs takes us past more fascinating buildings and areas to explore another time.
The Painted Cliffs walk is best done at low tide and, as we are a little early, we take the inland path to enjoy the bush and take a look at the old cottages and Oast House. At the end of our walk the tide has dropped enough for us to carefully negotiate our way around a rocky outcrop to see the beautifully patterned sandstone cliffs. These have been created by the movement of mineral-rich water though the rock, and by the eroding action of wind and wave. The peaceful beaches and shoreline also have a wealth of fascinating tidal-zone marine life. By the time we have had our fill of the cliffs and rock pools the tide has dropped further so the rocks are easier to negotiate and more people are arriving to sightsee. We walk back along the beach paddling along the way.
More time on the island would be great but unfortunately we only had the two nights so we head back to Triabunna on the afternoon ferry and spend another night behind the hotel. We’ve arranged to do some house sitting in Richmond in a few weeks time and we have an introductory visit booked to meet the owners, and animals, and to finalise the dates so we get an early start and drive straight through to Richmond. School holidays have just started so we’ll avoid the coast again for the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned for the next adventures.